Academy Award nominees Robert Downey Jr. and Richard Linklater are set to re-team for a film that will adapt an episode of the Reply All podcast. The show is hosted by P.J Vogt and Alex Goldman, and focuses on real stories that demonstrate the relationship between people and technology. The episode that will be adapted aired on January 19th, 2017, and was titled Man Of The People – although it’s yet to be confirmed that this title will be used for the movie that’s now being developed.
Episode #86 of Reply All centred on the turn-of-the-century tale of John Brinkley, who led the extraordinary life of a man gifted in the art of the con, and was also widely considered to be responsible for many deaths. Born in North Carolina in 1885, Brinkley dreamed of becoming a doctor – but events and circumstance seemed to continually conspire against him. Determined to succeed, he eventually abandoned his studies and instead purchased a certificate from the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University in 1912. Armed with this false document, he went into business with James E. Crawford and claimed to be able to treat male impotence – but was, in fact, simply injecting coloured water into his patients, for a fee.
After a brief spell in jail, a short time in the Armed Forces, and an apparent dip of the toe into bigamy, Brinkley opened a clinic in Kansas in 1918, and helped the local community weather the flu pandemic. Here, he developed the surgical procedure for which he would become infamous: the transplantation of goat testicles into humans. He claimed it to be an aid to virility and fertility, and later expanded that statement to declare it a cure for everything from dementia to digestion issues. These potentially lethal antics soon drew the attention of Dr. Morris Fishbein, who then spent the better part of his career working to expose Brinkley as a fraud. He also drew the attention of the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Chandler, and through this acquaintance, Brinkley diversified his activities into radio broadcasting and pharmaceutical supplies, in the 1920s.
By 1930, both Brinkley’s U.S medical and broadcasting licenses had been revoked, so he ran for public office. His repeated attempts to be elected as Governor of Kansas failed, in spite of his winning an increasing share of the vote. Finally, he relocated to Del Rio, in Texas, on the Mexican border. Here, with a Mexican radio broadcasting license, he built two huge radio towers, and dubbed them the Border Blaster – building a signal so strong it could still be heard across the U.S. However, Fishbein eventually succeeded in bringing Brinkley to account, by publishing so many accusatory articles about him that Brinkley finally sued Fishbein for libel. The judge found in favour of Fishbein, though, and labelled Brinkley a charlatan – bringing down upon him a wave of prosecutions, which bankrupted him by 1941. A year later, he was dead.
The film adaptation of this remarkable tale will have Richard Linklater at the helm – and, with his penchant for observing the passage of time, it’s right in his wheelhouse. Similarly, the lead role of John Brinkley would seem to be a perfect fit for the charm and swagger of Robert Downey Jr., in addition to giving him the long-awaited opportunity of a heavy-duty dramatic role to sink his talented teeth into. Both Linklater and Downey Jr. (who previously collaborated on A Scanner Darkly) will also co-produce, along with Susan Downey, noted film producer Megan Ellison, and Reply All host P.J Vogt, among others. There’s no word yet on a screenwriter, however, which leaves open the question of whether Linklater will again direct from his own script, or utilize the work of another writer.
The real intrigue on this project now will be the wider casting. Notable roles will undoubtedly include Brinkley’s business partner, James E. Crawford, and his arch-nemesis, Dr. Morris Fishbein. Robert Downey Jr. shines brightest when he has the right scene partner to spar with, so it will be these casting announcements that we’ll be anticipating most.